There’s a lot to say about how language is used against us. How it can serve as a feature of oppression to ‘other’, alienate, and dehumanize. It would take me an eternity to list all the words and ways of speaking that fit into this category, primarily because those working in the mental health system (and the media, etc.) seem to keep coming up with more. For example, at a conference I was recently at, a presenter referred to “first breakers” meaning people who were believed to be experiencing their so-called ‘first psychotic break’ (a problematic phrase in and of itself). That was certainly a new one for me.
Sometimes people want a list of the ‘bad’ words so they can avoid them, and while it’s possible to give them some ideas, a comprehensive inventory is entirely out of reach. It’s better to think more about the qualities of oppressive language so one can develop their own filter. Hint: Ditching terms that tie up one’s very being so closely with something widely viewed as problematic (e.g., offender, the homeless, etc.) that they seem to be nothing else is a good place to start. So is getting rid of terms that are used to describe what is seen as problematic only for a particular group. For example, everyone can have a hard time, but only a specific group is commonly thought of as ‘decompensating’. Even when providers mean to ‘help’, their words can sometimes seep into us, reforming our identity around concepts of chronicity, illness, and brokenness.
And yet the worst magic trick up the system’s sleeve is when it convinces us that we should use some of these words on ourselves. This is something that happens by design, not accident. And no, I don’t necessarily mean that there’s some mental health czar sitting on high cackling as he plots how to make this a thing. But I do mean that the system is designed to silence us, and to do that most successfully, it requires our participation.
Yes, we regularly and unwittingly box ourselves in to the ‘mental health’ framework, even when we might think we’re pushing our way out. This phenomenon is attributable to what gets called ‘internalized oppression’. It is a common experience among many marginalized groups in society who find that they have taken on elements of unhelpful belief systems fashioned by those in power.
The phenomenon of internalized oppression is complex and multilayered. When it occurs consciously, it may be because we’ve learned that — for our own survival — we must speak in ways that are valued by those in the dominant group. Or, that somehow setting ourselves apart from the marginalized group we’re a part of by sounding more like those in charge means becoming one of ‘the good ones’, and that comes with certain benefits. Sometimes it’s all simply a matter of trying to earn respect or acceptance from the power class. Still other times, it might be about obtaining or retaining a job and the ability to meet one’s basic needs. Most poignantly, it can even be about reclaiming our literal freedom, as many of us have learned the hard way that speaking in ways that are seen as “lacking insight” or “weird” (read ‘not in alignment with the conventional paradigm’) can be used against us as justification to lock us up or keep us incarcerated.
Sometimes internalized oppression grips people so overtly that we find folks introducing themselves by their diagnosis, or referring to each other as non-compliant (one of the most violent terms in psychiatry). Sometimes it happens slickly as the system lays euphemistic traps intent on convincing us that the ugliest things are good, and only the most heartless grinches among us would reject them. I would put ‘Assisted Outpatient Treatment’ (AOT) in this category. Additionally, a reader recently pointed out to me that I slipped into using ‘seclusion’ language — a much more mild sounding term than the solitary confinement that it represents — in my last piece without even noticing it. But, what follows are several of the sneakiest examples of internalized oppression represented by language that I hope people will consider as we fight to strip away the layers that hold us back from simply being humans in this world struggling to survive and flourish just like everyone else.
Recovery: I’ve written about this before in the ‘Recovery Trap’. In summary, there are many reasons this word is problematic. First, as some will point out, in order to ‘recover’ one must first accept that they were ‘sick’, and if that doesn’t sit one squarely within the paradigm of ‘mental illness’, I don’t know what does. Perhaps that works for some folks, but if you feel like the existing binary of ‘sick’ and ‘well’ aren’t a fit for you, then you may want to reconsider.
In fact, many of us would much rather regard our experiences (even some of the most painful ones) in the realm of perfectly acceptable differences along a continuum of ways to be human. Some of us may feel more deeply than others, and thus be more impacted by traumatic events. And that may be less representative of a ‘disorder’ than it is of a strength because perhaps it’s also what makes us most adept at caregiving, empathizing, and helping others feel seen. Some of us may hear voices as a part of cultural or spiritual experiences, not because we are ‘sick’. And then the main challenge becomes how to integrate that experience into a society that has little tolerance for it, rather than seeing it as a symptom to be extinguished. Some of us may simply process information or communicate differently than others. And perhaps that means we struggle with some tasks that are seen as basic, but excel in areas most folks couldn’t begin to comprehend. In all of these instances, there is simply nothing from which to ‘recover’, only barriers to overcome based on how society is designed. And to use ‘recovery’ (or push it on others) is to continue to buy into the idea that it is fair and just to pathologize difference in the face of history that tells us firmly it is not.
Also walking hand in hand with the idea of ‘recovery’ is the chronicity of ‘mental illness’, which far too many people fail to recognize. Folks are taught and buy into the idea that ‘recovery’ is a lifelong process, which tacitly supports that their diagnosis is lifelong as well. This is something I refuse to buy into, for, as many have now heard me say, “Why is what you get to call life with all its ups and downs, what I’m supposed to call ‘recovery’ simply because I was once diagnosed?”
I realize that for many who were told they’d suffer and be sick for an eternity, the concept of ‘recovery’ can be one giant step forward. I’m not going to try and take that away from them, but it is a box I refuse to sit in, and one I believe we need to continue to reconsider as a group that is supposedly fighting for freedom from a system and way of thinking about our experiences that has done us few favors, and continues to lead so many of us to our deaths.
Consumer: I am no consumer. I am no kind of vacuum consuming the ‘services’ of others, without anything to give back. Nor am I a ‘peer’, with my identity inextricably linked to my relationship (former or current) to the mental health system. This whole idea that we should be boiled down into these one-word labels (clients, participants, and every other last example) that position my existence in relationship to having been diagnosed serve to do little else than keep me bound.
We may believe we’ve found the ‘right’ word when we fashion something new, but we’ve only bought into prettier shackles. Every time we refer to ourselves or someone else in this manner… Every time we allow some group to be named based on our supposed identity (e.g., ‘consumer advisory board’)… Every time we even buy into this idea that finding the ‘one right word’ to which we should be tied… We participate in a system game of keeping ourselves contained.
I remember an area Medical Director for the Department of Mental Health once explained to me (as if I weren’t already familiar with the standard practice) that there needed to be a consistent word used in order to create documents or articles relating to various topics or tasks. I wondered ‘why’ aloud. He didn’t have an answer. Not a satisfying one, anyway.
As with ‘recovery’, this is something I’ve written about before and am only briefly reprising here. You can read more about it in ‘False Arguments: A Three Part Story‘ or ‘Cheers for Peers’.
Anti-Stigma: Anti-stigma is the language of ‘advocacy’ groups like the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), and so many others like this new one I just came across: #OkaytoSay. They would have us believe that they’re fighting on our side, for liberation and acceptance. Yet, in truth, they’re doing little more that supporting a marketing scheme that creates a pipeline right into treatment. Essentially, what these campaigns claim is that we need to get everyone to feel better about ‘mental illness’ so those of us who are so marked can stop feeling ashamed about seeking help. The same help that the CDC, several journalists, and many of the more honest psychiatrists in our midst have been upfront isn’t quite holding water. But whether or not that ‘help’ works or causes harm seems of little concern.
Yet, how many folks who’ve been diagnosed flock to ‘anti-stigma’ events, walk in their fundraising walks, or cough up their stories in the name of anti-stigma pride? (Or because that’s the only way we’re allowed to have a broadly heard voice at all?) Does it truly seem as if Glenn Close’s sister, Jessie, has been liberated by wearing a t-shirt that says ‘bipolar’ while her sister keeps all her ‘flaws’ inside, and claims only the label sister as she stands beside her? Yet, there she is playing along. Read more in my article, Anti-Anti-Stigma.
Trigger: And here’s the only one (of those I’ve included) about which I‘ve never written before. Trigger. I recall some years back when administrators at the local Department of Mental Health became sympathetic to asking folks to enter into their offices (an old state hospital with many remaining signs of what it used to be) based primarily on the idea that it was ‘triggering’ and perhaps not ‘trauma sensitive’ to ask folks who’ve been hospitalized to be there. Although a genuine effort to improve, the problem was once again centered in the individual who was having the emotional reaction, as if it wouldn’t make sense for a ‘normal’ person. But truly, I wonder how it is not upsetting for each and every one of those administrators to spend their days occupying a space where so many human beings were literally tortured and died? To walk on grounds where they were buried? To see the door still marked ‘Shower Room’ and not wonder what happened in there? That this is not the case is what is baffling, and perhaps at the root of several other issues about the system today.
But, back to the internalized oppression piece. Recently, I posted on my Facebook feed about a presenter at a conference (the same conference as mentioned above) who claimed he had a policy of trying every “treatment modality” offered at the clinical facility where he worked. The example he offered was that of subjecting himself to an intake questionnaire, after which he reported he felt very “tired.” My complaint centered around my own skepticism that his claim was anything more than a patronizing nod at being ‘woke’ enough to realize that clinicians often live in ignorance of what ‘treatment’ can look or feel like from the receiving end. I found it extraordinarily hard to believe that he actually was at his center trying psychiatric drugs or experimenting with being involuntarily incarcerated. I found his claims to be arrogant and condescending, and I stated as much in the thread.
And then someone (who has been diagnosed himself) came along and essentially said that he could only understand my perspective if I’d been “emotionally triggered.” In one verbal swoop, he basically told me that my response made no sense, unless I was a delicate flower over-sensitized by the past to such absurdities of the present. The only problem? My response did make sense. It made perfect sense. And not because I was still overcome with past trauma, but because sitting through an intake (while often terrible), is nothing like being put on long-term psychiatric drugs or sleeping on a plastic mattress next to a stranger, and it is unacceptable to suggest otherwise. His words were pandering and tone deaf, and what doesn’t make sense is how quickly even someone who’s been on the receiving end of mental health services was to hear about that person’s false bravado and nonetheless center the problem in me.
But, the problems with ‘trigger’ run deeper than all that, and not even because of the weird military link or the implication that we are some sort of dangerous gun ready to fire off. (Well, yes, because of that, too.) The word is a problem — especially when we use it against ourselves — because it perpetuates the idea that we are fragile, and that our environments must be controlled in order to manage that. It also reinforces the idea that big feelings are bad, and must be avoided or numbed out (just like the psych drugs are used to do for so many of us). What would life look like if, instead of desperately ducking those big feels, we noticed when each other seemed impacted, and simply said, “Hey, this seems like it’s brought something up for you. Do you want to talk about that?” (There’s a group called the ‘Big Feels Club’ over in Australia, by the way. It’s worth checking out.)
That’s what we offer to people in Alternatives to Suicide trainings: an approach that not only provides a framework for groups where people can talk openly about suicide and other taboo topics, but for one-on-one conversations and other environments, too. And, by the way, Alternatives to Suicide is also an approach that shuns blanket rules like ‘no graphic details’, another concept with similar implications that we seem to have picked up from the clinical system along the way. While there should be some process for consent on the part of those who have agreed to bear witness, sometimes people absolutely need to have that level of pain heard.
Speaking of Alternatives to Suicide and ‘triggers’, not too long ago, my colleague and friend Caroline Mazel-Carlton and I were traveling and offering presentations on this topic, and though we received great responses across the board, one group’s feedback included: “There should be a trigger warning.” Now, in fairness, I do support the idea that someone should be given a sense of what they’re walking into. For example, I believe it would be unfair to advertise a screening of My Little Pony and swap it out with Amityville Horror without any advanced warning. (Whichever one you’d be more likely to choose to avoid is up to you.) However, one might assume that someone signing up for a talk or training on the topic of suicide has been duly informed that the subject matter will be deep, and may be upsetting for some.
I can’t support the idea that our conversations, including the personal experiences that we share as a part of the process, require ‘trigger warnings’. Nope. Can’t do it. Why? For all the reasons listed above, but also because that practice sends a pretty strong message to the person(s) being asked to stamp that warning on their forehead. And, that stamp basically says:
“Hey, you are too much. What you have lived through is so ‘too much’ that I can’t even stand to hear about it.”
Imagine hearing that as someone who had to live through what someone else is saying they can’t even bear to hear. Imagine hearing that as someone who spent years in silence or being told not to tell, before gathering the courage to lay out all they’ve been through. Bear in mind just how strongly secrecy and silence are linked to trauma and abuse.
No, we need not run roughshod over each other’s needs, or try and trick each other down a non-consensual hole of tough stuff. I, for one, have a really hard time around dogs, and if you are my friend, you won’t bring one to my house, nor surprise me with a visit to the dog pound. (Though if you did, I believe in my ability to survive it.) But we’ve gone too far with this ‘trigger’ business, warnings and all. It’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy where so many of us run around in circles expecting to be “triggered” and then playing that out with one another when we inevitably are.
The reality is that we are stronger than that, even when we are struggling. We just are. Which isn’t to say that we won’t ever be upset. Rather it is to say that, on the whole, being upset doesn’t always have to be bad and we have more ability to bounce back than that for which we give ourselves credit.
We do not need others making rules and controlling our surroundings on our behalf. We can speak up or step out when we don’t want to consent to something really hard in that moment. And when we do find those big feelings rising up, we can have faith in each other that we can work through them. And that it may even be an opportunity to learn and grow as we do.
Now, I guess I should take a moment to add in here that, yes, I realize that some of us have been so institutionalized or traumatized that we’ve lost any sense that we have the right to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ or get up and walk out. I get that. But, that is solved not by ‘trigger warnings’ so much as by creating environments where we are willing to sit in the muck with each other, and re-find our own power. In other words, the same path that leads us to sharing those parts of us we were told to keep hidden is the same path that empowers each of us to set our own limits, too. Conversely, it is often the environment where someone else steps in to ‘help’ us keep our rawest bits out of sight for fear of ‘triggering’ one another that also leaves us feeling glued to the floor until someone tells us we can go.
This is all a process. I realize many folks get irritated by the ‘moving target’ of language, but understand that this is a process of unlearning for us all. It’s not so much that the words randomly keep changing as it is that the oppression embedded in our words and ways of being runs deeper than most of us could have ever imagined. Unraveling it all is a long way off.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
Thank you Sera, this article is beautifully written and extremely timely and relevant!! I cannot add a single thing, you have hit the nail on the head in my opinion. This is also perfectly written to explain the concept of language’s importance without delving too deep into semantics (which often loses the less-curious person’s attention).
I especially appreciate what you’ve written about “triggers.” I realize I’ve recognized the same issues as you have in that regard, but you’ve put my sentiment into words in a way even I couldn’t until now.
I think this article can (and should) also be a resource to other organizations and people in pursuit of justice, in their work to understand the finer points of how oppressive systems are reinforced by the participation of the masses.
It’s always beautiful to hear that someone understands how oppressive this system is, and to know that the intent of language like this is not totally lost on everyone. Thank you, Thank you for writing this!!!
Thanks so much, KindRegards. 🙂 ‘Triggers’ is a challenging word that is so pervasively used within my and so many communities right now. I hope these words alongside other people’s words and lead to more conversation about it. 🙂
Thanks Sera – I thought I was the only one who objected to using the word “trigger.”
Even when people are talking about symptoms, “That triggered me,” I’m like: you had no choice but to REACT?
What about RESPONSE?
And how long can we tip-toe around the ever changing fences of “PC”?
It’s not about “political correctness” when a person experiences post-traumatic stress responses.
One one hand, I am adamant about some of the things you are saying, especially when it comes to euphemistic terms that misrepresent what’s actually going on with regard to consent, ex. “seclusion” and “assisted outpatient treatment,” and where we have terms that portray the person who is having feelings, as being the problem. I LOVE your article. Your thoughts about language are right on.
On the other hand, I want to speak to something that some members of our community sometimes do with this type of information. I don’t want your brilliant ideas to be twisted into something awful. The next two paragraphs have to do with that.
It’s about THINKING differently, not just using different words, and I want us to be thoughtful about the extent to which we nitpick at each other about exact wording, ignoring the content of what the other person is trying to say. It can be a minefield of every possible word I can think of, being wrong in the view of some people, for some reason or another, to the point that it’s impossible to ever say anything about mental health. As a person with a language difficulty because of a brain injury, I find it difficult to have conversations about mental health. I think for myself; I don’t parrot other people’s ideas. (A lot of people parrot talking points about anti-stigma or Marxism or RC theory or whatever else; I don’t; I state my ideas I have thought of myself.) I have found that a fair amount of the time, if I say anything in a conversation about mental health, I then get endlessly harangued about the exact words I said, not being good enough. It is hugely laborious for me to put words to my thoughts, at all, and then to be dragged into fielding endless haranguing by multiple people, on and on and on, just because I tried to express an original idea….it’s exhausting, especially for a person with a brain injury. I end up just not wanting to participate in anything having to do with “mental health” in any way at all, because the people who are supposed to be on the same “side” as me (whatever you want to call us), pretty much destroy my mental health whenever I try to participate. I know I’m not good enough. With a brain injury, I am not able to function well enough to do anything that matters to me in my life. Including contributing to the movement. But just stop. It consumes what little energy I have left, after the effort I made, to contribute something.
So yes, lets develop a keen awareness of language, and lets use it to the best of our ability in how we, ourselves, speak and write, and not as an excuse to slam others for speaking and writing imperfectly. Let’s appreciate the things people do contribute, and not slam them for the ways in which their efforts aren’t good enough for us. If people say the wrong word and we have an idea of a better one, maybe we can make a suggestion of a different way it could be said, privately, in a truly kind and considerate way. (Not a fake-kind way that is so common among us. Be sincerely kind, or don’t say it at all. I think if you’re not able to muster truly kind intentions, it’s better to wait until you can. I’m not talking about perfect words, here.) Let’s not be publicly shaming each other for imperfect language.
I think part of it is we need to resist the temptation to use just popular accepted words for things. Anytime I am about to use a piece of common mental-health terminology, I will stop and ask myself, “Is that really what I mean to say? Is there a word that says it with more accuracy?” I will think of my own words for what I mean, instead of using common terminology. Maybe I will go ahead and use my own word, and take the time to explain it, too.
If we try to make our words reflect our intentions, we will gradually find the language that truly says what we mean. It won’t always be perfect, especially at first. And we may have to keep explaining, so that we are understood by some of the more mainstream people who we want to get our ideas across to.
OK here’s another thing I struggle with- the problem of being “inflammatory” and having mainstream people stop listening. I will give you an example. When I was trying to educate the Vermont legislature about the problems with forced drugging in institutional situations, I used the term “forced drugging” rather than “involuntary medication” because I thought it was more accurate. But some people who I really wanted to get to understand my ideas, were alienated and stopped listening because they found my language inflammatory and they saw me as not sympathetic to their point of view and not respectful of… yada yada. So then I wonder if we need to use different words when speaking to different audiences. If we want them to listen. If we use the euphemism and they listen, it’s better than if they don’t listen, if they’re the legislators who will vote on it. Presenting scientific studies about the outcomes of AOT, to legislators, is one area where this might apply. If we call it AOT, they might be more open to learning about the content of what we are saying- that the outcomes aren’t very good. If we call it “forced drugging in the community” or something like that, that might feel better to us, but if it causes the legislators to dismiss us as biased and not listen, we’re not actually succeeding. Though it is very important that legislators not be misled by the euphemistic term, and that they really understand that it is actually involuntary consumption of these substances. And I think it’s more accurate to call them “drugs” than “medications,” because they don’t treat any underlying condition; they simply have a psychoactive effect (that’s a reference to Joanna Moncrieff and I can support that scientifically with other references, such as Grace Jackson). Maybe if we explain it, it will be less likely to be dismissed as biased or inflammatory….but, just, we have to think of who it is we’re trying to communicate to, and make sure we’re accomplishing that, not just sort of recklessly using whatever language we think is great for our own reasons. (I use the word “recklessly” to mean “without regard for the effect it’s having in the actual communication we’re having with the actual people we’re trying to reach.”)
We really have to re-invent language a bit, perhaps. Maybe we can even make a dent in the popular and accepted lexicon.
I just spent an hour and a half writing this. I am trying to contribute something. Please be respectful.
I can’t really buy into the AOT lie. Assisted outpatient treatment for forced treatment? Well, that’s the kind of treatment I, for one, can do without. Calling it assisted outpatient treatment only feeds the lie. I know there’s a lot of jargon out there, but sometimes it helps to cut through the crap.
I agree. I am saying, make sure you’re succeeding in communicating your most important content to the audience you’re trying to communicate it too. If you fail to do that while pleasing yourself, what are you really accomplishing? If you think your presentation about AOT to the legislature was awesome, but they stopped listening because of terminology that they felt alienated by or didn’t understand to mean the same thing they were voting about (AOT) and then they voted for AOT, what did you accomplish?
About AOT? You mean court orders for involuntary treatment. I’m not using the three words ‘assisted outpatient treatment’ together because you don’t need a court order to assist anybody in outpatient treatment if that’s your aim. I, unlike you, am not calling forced treatment assistance.
You are ignoring the content of what I said. I don’t think it should be called “assisted,” either. Sigh. Maybe you could stop and just actually think about the content of what I said. I am not going to keep fielding your comments which are just saying to me, “I am trying to use up your energy while ignoring what you already said.” What I said, is good enough and doesn’t diverge in values, from your opinion.
Then stop writing AOT. AOT is a acronym for assisted outpatient treatment. Assisted outpatient treatment is, in the jargon of the “mental health” treatment industry, actually a euphemism for forced treatment.
Opinion is the point. In my opinion forced treatment is harmful. Another person’s opinion may be that it’s helpful. Even if I’m among legislators I am going to be calling it the way I see it, not the way somebody else sees it. If this treatment is designed to assist in harming me, and others like me, I need to make that fact known. Concealing it does no good to anybody. If harmful legislation is to come from this euphemistic jargon, we need to let that fact be known.
No. They did NOT stop listening because of anything you said “wrong,” but their own need to remain in denial. You obviously are blaming yourself for others’ ignorance and misdeeds. If they stop listening that doesn’t mean you should stop speaking the truth. Though actually I doubt they were listening in the first place.
There are times when the reason they don’t “get” what you’re saying, it’s because they have another agenda that your ideas conflict with, and they aren’t really that interested in doing the “right thing” if it means they’d lose power, money or influence that they want to have.
I appreciate you stating this so plainly, Steve. Very true.
So, once again we placate the people driving the system rather than tell the accurate and literal truth about what their agenda is actually doing to people? Are we to be more worried about offending people driving the system than working to free ourselves from the debilitating system by speaking the truth?
This sounds very much, once again, like the ongoing conversation about wanting to have a dialog with psychiatrists and people driving the system in order to get them to listen to us. And to this I will once again say that dialoging with slave owners in the South didn’t get them to change their minds about owning people whose skin was a darker color than theirs. We had to experience a civil war that almost destroyed this country in order to stop slavery. And even that didn’t really stop the slavery itself, it just went underground and took on different forms like share cropping and Jim Crow crap.
Sorry, I’m not going to try to sooth the feelings of the people driving the system. It’s time to speak the truth as best as we can rather than mincing around and being worried if we’re going to offend anyone.
Thanks for your comment, Stephen. Pushing back on this idea that we need to say things nicely feels very important to me, too. We (RLC) are making a film related to this, actually. 🙂
Thanks for reiterating this, Frank. Hopefully it was clear in my article that I agree with you that calling it ‘AOT’ does harm.
Hi, thanks for your post — a few comments:
if I say anything in a conversation about mental health, I then get endlessly harangued about the exact words I said
Well, language is important, so it is a focus when trying to liberate ourselves from this juggernaut, so it might feel like haranguing sometimes, and maybe sometimes it is. But I think the intent is, similarly to what Sera is attempting to articulate, to avoid unwitting “mental health” labels and assumptions which hold us down. So try to approach this as an intellectual exercise, not a personal assault. Of course I don’t know the specifics, maybe what you refer to has been personally directed at times, but generally I don’t think such concerns about language constitute “shaming.”
On your other subject I personally am opposed to dancing on eggshells, we need to say what we mean, and I believe you were perfectly correct in speaking of forced drugging to those politicians. Speaking the truth about such matters is ultimately the only way we will make progress; if others don’t catch on at first they shouldn’t be coddled with euphemisms, make them think a little. (Also if you are in any way blaming your style of presentation for those legislators’ lack of a positive response, just don’t; there’s no way these people are going to do the right thing at the point in the struggle, no matter what you say.)
I mean things filled with hateful personal attacks. When we respond to others’ well meaning but less than perfect language, with intentionally abusive hateful personal attacks, is what I’m talking about. I don’t mind people making respectful comments disagreeing with the content of what I am saying or commenting on my use of language. That’s not what people tend to do. They tend to get quite vicious with personal attacks, and they think imperfect language justifies it. If it was all respectful, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Perhaps what I should say is, if you’re being deliberately hurtful in response to someone’s imperfectly worded well-intentioned communication, you’re the one who is wrong.
I might have been correct in using the term “forced drugging,” except that some of them later said I was taken less seriously because of that. They voted for forced drugging. Sigh.
No, that’s their issue, it had nothing to do with you being accurate and honest. And if it did, fuck ’em, that’s THEIR karma. You did the right thing.
Anyway if these hateful personal attacks you mention take place here, just report them to the moderator.
Commenting as moderator: We have worked hard to minimize any such comments, with some success. If you feel there is something that is hurtful to you, please let me know via the “report comment” function, or e-mail me at [email protected].
Apologies for my delay in responding. I was mostly out of reach of a computer yesterday.
In any case, rarely do I advocate for correcting people on their individual word choices for themselves. While I would, for example, correct a fellow team member in my work place (because I think it’s *ESSENTIAL* that they not be reinforcing negative stuff in their language choices, and that they be using words that leave space for other people to self-define), I wouldn’t typically correct someone speaking about themselves (nor advocate that anyone else do so). One of the most important things in many people’s own healing process is to be able to have the space to choose their own path, including the language they use to describe it. If someone came in using a word for themselves that felt really problematic to me or that I at least wanted to explore with them further, I’d simply ask what that word means to them (or similar). For example: “I’m bipolar.” “I’ve known a lot of people who’ve been given that diagnosis, and they and their experiences are so different. What does that look like for or mean to you?” Sometimes people really need to think through that answer because they’ve been given so much systems language that they just haven’t really thought about what it truly means to them. In other words, as you referenced, some people are just ‘parroting’ ideas, and that phenomenon can become dangerous and inhibit growth and progress and healing and freedom on many levels.
That said, in order for people to be able to truly see possibilities beyond the crap the system feeds us, they need to be exposed to it and have opportunity to unpack what it all means to them personally… So, that still brings me back to how important it is that we not be unnecessarily perpetuating all this stuff.
Also, you said?: “When I was trying to educate the Vermont legislature about the problems with forced drugging in institutional situations, I used the term “forced drugging” rather than “involuntary medication” because I thought it was more accurate. But some people who I really wanted to get to understand my ideas, were alienated and stopped listening because they found my language inflammatory and they saw me as not sympathetic to their point of view and not respectful of… yada yada.”
In my experience, people who are in that place at that time will find something to disagree with no matter what you say. Because you are threatening a paradigm with which they are intertwined either through years of work/education, or through years of institutionalization. I also use psychiatric drugs instead of medication. Rarely do people respond to that in any way in either direction. However, I get called inflammatory, and difficult, and all sorts of things all the time. That includes before I was ever writing on Mad in America. Before I’d put out publicly some of the more controversial things I’ve said. Before we made any films. Etc. Simply because I was challenging a paradigm. I used to believe that if I just tried hard enough, I’d be able to find the right words to reach people who are in that place, and that that was my job. But after years of trying and still getting the same ‘you’re too radical’ or inflammatory or whatever, I’ve stopped trying so hard. Because it’s not about me. It’s about them. They are *INVESTED* in hearing me that way, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about that, unless I water down what I say so much that I’m basically just supporting them and have lost all of what I truly believe.
That is a feature of co-optation and systemic oppression. It is not our job to make people comfortable all the time, and they are attempting to trick us into stopping altogether when they put in effort to convince that if ‘only we were nicer about it’ we’d get further. While I’m not suggesting screaming at people is effective in many instances, I’ve not found that watering down is either.
Very well said, Sera!
HH, a deeply thoughtful comment – thank you! As a former communications manager (now retired), I’d recommend using terms that the audience is familiar with and your own language. That modifies what can be a dismissive or threatened response from the audience. (We all switch off when we don’t like the language, don’t we?) Thank you for your contribution…..
Dear HH, thank you so very much for writing this wonderful, thoughtful, intelligent response. I, too, have a hard time with the challenges of changing terms and language, for the same reason as you. I have been knocked unconscious 4 times in my life. Three of those times were due to abuse. I am on disability today, because of complex developmental post traumatic stress, caused by multiple severe traumas and abuses that happened throughout my childhood and early adulthood. Plus, when I was in my early thirties, I had a transient ischemic attack, also known a mini stroke, and I lost my math skills because of that. And, when I was in my late thirties, after my last head trauma caused by abuse, I went through about 2 years of heavy drinking, trying to self medicate my trauma issues, which I am sure destroyed even more brain cells.
Speaking of which, the forced drugging that I endured for two years, after my abusive parents put me in a state mental institution at the age of fourteen, probably did not do my developing brain any good, either. PTSD was not yet an official psychiatric label when I was institutionalized at age 14, way back in 1968, so I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and pumped full of Thorazine, Stellazine, Millaril (sp?), and many other drugs. I could not even think straight during that time in my life, or for many years after, let alone figure out the fine nuances of words like “trigger.”
Shortly after I was put in that state hospital, I met the ward psychiatrist for the first and last time, for my official intake interview, and I asked him how soon I could go home. “According to the current statistics, 97% of the people committed to this institution are never permanently released, and if you are still here after one year, the odds of you ever getting out of here alive will be less than 1%.” This is what that “doctor” said to me, as coldly and calmly as though he were telling me that the weather forecast was predicting rain!
When he saw the look of stunned disbelief on my face, he told me to ask the other patients on the ward how long they had been there, if I thought he was lying. I did, and the shortest answer I got was 8 years, the average, over 20 years. I had just turned 15 and my life was over!
My mother had already told me that there was “no cure for schizophrenia.” At that moment, I would have literally given my right arm for the beautiful word “recovery” to be applied to my situation.
Yes, some things trigger me. I’m sorry, but they do. I appreciate trigger warnings, because they allow me to decide whether I am feeling up for that right now. Sometimes I am, and sometimes I’m not. For me, it’s good to know, upfront. I am currently writing a memoir titled Growing Up Crazy. It will carry a trigger warning in the front matter, and also throughout the book, wherever I feel it may be warranted. Anyone who gets triggered by the word trigger, will need to avoid my book. 🙂
We each need to find our own way to a life that is good, happy, and hopeful. Despite the “doctor” who ruined my hope, half a century ago, for any kind of goodness and happiness ever being possible in my life, today, at the age of 65, I am the happiest and the healthiest that I have ever been. My daughter is a therapist intern, soon to graduate from Whitworth with a master’s degree in child and family therapy. Her daughter, my granddaughter, graduated earlier this year from Harvard extension school, with a master’s in social anthropology. She is going for her doctorate next. As for me, 20 years ago I went to nursing school and was elected class president. Not bad, for someone who was told, at the age of barely 15, that I would be psychotic and locked up forever!
Hurray for Recovery!
Like you, HH, I also agree with much in this article. To me, “mental illness” is just another shade of “normal.” Several years ago, I created a meme in the shape of a red stop sign that says: “Having a PTSD Reaction to Extreme Trauma is Normal — Just as it is Normal to Bleed if You are Stabbed.” Under the stop sign, it says STOP the Stigma. But some people found my stabbed/bleeding analogy triggering. And some people object to the “D” at the end of PTSD.
Well, I’m sorry. This seems to be the best that I can do right now. And, ya know what? All things considered, my best, at this point in time, is pretty darn good!
Here’s another meme I have created recently:
The answer to PTSD is CARE: Compassion, Acceptance, Respect, and Encouragement.
Thank you, HH, for your compassionate, accepting, respectful, and encouraging comment! Here is a big great-grandma ((HUG)) if you want one.
Linda Lee/@LadyQuixote (I tilt at windmills. Somebody has to.)
P.S. HH, you mentioned that it took you an hour and a half to write your original comment here. I spent over an hour writing my comment. Because, yeah, head trauma. The gift that keeps on giving.
I just saw, further down, where you commented that you prefer “Content Warning” to ” Trigger Warning.” Wow, I like that! I am going to use that from now on, in my memoir, and also on my blog. Thanks! Genius!
Thanks for this article, the language of mental health is pretty debilitating.
Linda Quixote – CARE – nice one – I will commit that to memory!
I find myself battling with vocabulary a lot. I DO find I use the word “in recovery” as an alternative to “mentally ill” which the system slugs people with.
I struggle with an alternative to “mental disorder” or “mental illness” and I end just talk about “problems” or “distress”.
People going through the system become very bitter about the language used against them. It seems to me that to get to a better place it is helpful if you genuinely and evidentially believe that you are OK, you are not a freak or an alien – that there is nothing biologically wrong with you, or at the very least nothing you can’t deal with. I do. Psychiatrists are on a mission to persuade you otherwise, and I will have no truck with it. Because, EVEN if it were true that you were “biochemically disordered”, whats the point in going on about it, if you haven’t a clue about what “it” is?
I’m not religious but we all know our bible stories. I wonder, if Jesus, or any other prophet for that matter, had been a psychiatrist (a psychotic one, but lets gloss over that), would he go round slapping labels on people instead of non-judgementally helping them make themselves better people?
Not much to disagree with, Sera, except that if people didn’t submit themselves to the psychiatric mentality in the first place none of these problems of internalized degradation would exist. Psychiatry is meant to control, not to “help.” ALL psychiatric/”recovery” terminology should be rejected and discarded.
Some people are literally forced into it with no choice at all…
Which is why it’s important to be aware that this is being done TO you, not FOR you. As Marley said, “Liberate yourselves from mental slavery, only us can free our minds.”
Of course, internalized oppression is usually very well established well before any contact with the “mental health” system. It usually starts at home, and if not there, is certainly put in place for most people by the schools or their family church.
Sure. It’s not all the mental health system, Steve. But they are rather designed around it being a thing and reinforcing that for all its worth.
Yes, but that sounds a bit of ‘victim blaming’, oldhead. We live in a society filled with systemic oppression, and it’s unfair to expect people to know not to get involved when all signs that they see are pointing in that direction.
Then start pointing in another direction. Most people are not inherently masochistic or stupid, they just need to make some connections.
On a related note, if someone told me they were bipolar I would ask them who told them that and why they believe it. That would open the door for exposing the fraudulence of psychiatry and the “mental health” system; exactly how would depend on their response. Then they would have more info with which to make an informed personal decision.
I very much like that approach. Asking where they got the information doesn’t challenge their identity, just makes it clear that it has an origin, which automatically moves in the direction of “bipolar” being a way of viewing things rather than a solid reality. I have also used “What led you to that conclusion?”
I’ve heard some say that capitalism is at the root of most “mental illness.”
Should we abolish all DSM labels from language? What to do about those of us who need to get labeled by the establishment to get insurance to pay for our therapy?
I might still be going in and out of hospitals had I not had the government pay for an excellent therapist helping me tremendously with her insightful skills and teaching me some life tools.
A member of our local Mental Patients Liberation Project group proposed that if two doctors certified someone as crazy, instead of the hospital, they should have an all expenses paid trip to the beach. More “healing” and cheaper than the hospital.
I love the beach trip idea!
The DSM labels have coopted common human terms and turned them into “medical diagnoses.” Certainly, no one is wanting to ban words like “depression” and “anxious.” I just want the psychiatric “profession” to stop pretending that people who are depressed all have a problem, all have the SAME problem, and all need the SAME “TREATMENT.” In particular, I want to end the idiotic concept that someone is depressed because their brain doesn’t work properly, in the absence of the slightest evidence that this is the case.
As for insurance payment, surely we can come up with something more real and less stigmatizing to tell insurance companies and still get payment.
I have heard “trigger warnings” called “content warnings.” I like that better. I think they are an important accommodation for the inclusion of people with brain injuries, in education and in other public conversations. Some people with brain injuries, including myself, need to budget our mental energy in order to be able to be organized to accomplish our other life activities, in order to navigate important social interactions (employment, parents, kids), in order to sleep (that actually takes mental energy, and doesn’t go well if one’s mental energy is too used up). People need to be able to make decisions about how and when to handle heavy topics, in the context of the other things they need their mental energy for. The “spoon theory” in Wikipedia explains this pretty well.
When we speak loudly and slowly in group situations, so that those who are hard of hearing or use hearing aids (which take time to process) can hear what we’re saying, not everyone needs us to do that, and perhaps a few who don’t understand what the accommodation is and for whom it is, feel condescended to. But it’s an important accommodation for inclusion; otherwise, certain types of people are left out of the conversation. I think the same is true of content warnings. If you don’t find it useful for yourself, that’s OK.
I think one thing that has muddied it is, people publishing articles putting down “trigger warnings” as something that weak “snowflake” modern college students are doing due to emotional fragility, that perpetuates emotional fragility. I’ve seen such articles. Bleck. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about including everyone. It’s about letting people consent to when they’re spending their limited mental energy on heavy topics. It’s not about avoidance. These kinds of articles are a real nuisance because they have added a layer of misplaced shame to the issue.
I’ve also heard people use “I am triggered by…” as a way of making an I-statement rather than telling a person they’re wrong for saying or doing whatever they’re saying or doing. Like, ” I need you to not say or do that around me, because of my needs, not because you’re wrong to say or do that.” As a way of navigating seemingly conflicting needs without blame. Perhaps there’s a better way to say that, but I think the content of what’s being attempted, by saying that, is good.
I really like that the conversation has been opened up.
Life is not convenient, and for people to go around expecting others to anticipate and refrain from mentioning whatever might set someone off is pretty unrealistic in my view.
It’s not about refraining from mentioning, it’s about giving people a heads-up so they can make consensual choices about their energy expenditure.
I suppose one could say that speaking loudly and clearly is also a form of catering, and so is having elevators in public buildings, and so is having restrooms with bars and with wide enough entrances for wheelchairs, and so is having electric doors. Life isn’t convenient, one could say, about all accommodations. It’s especially tricky for people who have disabilities that aren’t all that visible, such as brain injuries, or cancer, or other things that substantially change the amount of energy a person has, but don’t provide any obvious instantaneous difficulty observable to others. It’s easy to be inconsiderate and to view their needs as wanting people to cater.
Who ever is paying with yellow metal/gold/money gets to make the rules.
Sins existed before psychiatry and have been renamed . Sins like sloth gluttony and so on , do exist and must be recognized for some kind of balance to occur.
Hearing voices. Voice of Pride, “I am all powerful!”(grandiosity) or taking pride in a job well done.
Too proud: In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the penitents were forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs to induce feelings of humility.
Voice of despair.”I have no power” and sadness versus accepting the things you can not change and feeling serenity.
I love reading your stuff Sera.
One nit-pick (since the whole point of the article is the words used): I got to the section ‘Anti-Stigma’ and saw you had incorrectly identified NAMI. It is not National Alliance FOR the Mentally Ill. Nope. Looked it up. It’s actually National Alliance ON the Mentally Ill. Now let’s think about *that* for a minute!
Ok, now I shall continue reading!
Sort of like the “Contract On America” (from elections past)?
exactly like that!
That may have been a little intentional, LavenderSage. 🙂 I suppose we can all read different things into ‘on’ vs. ‘in’, and which is better/worse, tho. :p
Thank you Sera.
So well said!
This is what psychiatry gave me:
“… some of us have been so institutionalized or traumatized that we’ve lost any sense that we have the right to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ or get up and walk out…….. it also leaves us feeling glued to the floor until someone tells us we can go.”
Which put a bullseye on my head for any abuser in the vicinity of any place I was. I’m sure psychiatry could come up with a pejorative label for their gift, along with denialism of the resultant abuse. So, I have the experience of the truth of what happened to me in their clutches and many aspects of the decades following that I can’t speak of – my own life makes others uncomfortable if I try to mention the truth of much of what makes me what I am.
This morning I woke feeling so bitter and angry. It burns me – but only me. I need to let it go, but to find a way that doesn’t involve forgetting. Trying to forget turned me into a self-defeating denialist devoid of self-respect, and consequently unable to recognise dangerous people and dangerous situations. I lost so much more than the time in their clutches through the indoctrination. Psychiatry became a parasite inside myself sucking the life and strength out of me long after I got away. It was the proverbial gift that kept on giving.
I agree with content warnings (where that content isn’t screamingly obvious) so that we can know when we will up to our necks in it – most especially in other people’s denial. But I’ve changed my mind about trigger warnings. I don’t need to forget, I need to recognise and make peace with my truth. Forgetting serves those who harm, not those who have been harmed.
out, you said: “This morning I woke feeling so bitter and angry. It burns me – but only me. I need to let it go, but to find a way that doesn’t involve forgetting.”
I have a suggestion for that: make art. Take the experience that fuels the anger, take something physical about it if you have some token, and transform it into a statement. There was an article here some time ago by a woman who had procured some of her hospital records (was her name Dorothy?) and cut out words and made a very powerful collage out of it. Her article sprang to mind when I read your sentence.
Carrie Fisher (poor lost lamb) is quoted as saying, “Take your broken heart. Turn it into art.” I think she was very right about that. Because, it IS important to honor the experience, but to give it a place to be where it is not wreaking emotional havoc. Art grounds the intense emotion (in this case anger, but could be grief, sadness too) into a physical form. Art makes powerful statements that invoke feelings in others, art is meant to do that, that’s art’s job. Art gets displayed, prominently, not hidden or forgotten. And the act of making the art, of transforming, literally, a piece of the experience into a powerful statement about the experience, is freeing. The act itself can be transformative. And the art piece you end up with takes the experience out of “it burns me– but just me,” because now the “burn” lives in the artwork, too. It ceases to be just internal; your pain/anger/sadness/whatever is now a message that others can take in. A message of warning, perhaps, or a message of camaraderie to those who have been “burned” too.
I have mixed feelings about ‘content warnings’, but I do agree they are a vast improvement and potentially useful in some contexts… The best thing about them as compared to ‘trigger’ warnings is that they say ‘I want you to know what is included here’ vs. ‘This content may be harmful to you.’ Content warnings certainly don’t suggest in quite the same way that ‘trigger warnings’ do that we are all fragile folks that can’t handle certain topics. Yet, I still remain mixed about them, because I still see the heavy use of them resulting in some similar outcomes. Not quite sure where the ‘right’ balance is.
And I hear you on the not wanting to forget, but not wanting to be paralyzed by anger (my own words, not sure if they resonate for you) forever. I can very much relate to that.
There is something else about trigger/content warnings. Consideration for the sensitivities of people of status, or those common in a community are called being respectful. It is not considered to be indicative of a defect, but of the value of the individual who may be affected.
I don’t think trigger warnings have helped, they seem to have served as yet another indicator of negative difference. We have to live with having our most painful experiences discussed, often derisively or with denial ignorance or victim-blaming, or just without any sensitivity at all, bu people who know nothing about it. That’s life.
But if you want an example of the hypocrisy of the issue of sensitivity, just make a comment in public that might cause some discomfort to ‘someone who matters’ and watch how quickly they and everyone like them, even those who are not affected, will feel no self-consciousness in expressing ostentatious aggrievement, and behave in ways that would be diagnosed as demonstrating a victim-mentality in marginalised people in relation to much more serious matters.
Sensitivity to feelings has always been political.
A good point. I’ve certainly been in a *LOT* of settings where making those in power/in the roles with the power ‘uncomfortable’ sure was frowned upon… and the sensitivity of those folks in power was NOT seen as *their* issue but mine or the others making them uncomfortable.
And yet when the low-power person expresses discomfort, it’s regarded as some kind of insult to the high-power person for not being “appreciative” enough. The game is fixed!
This is very true!
Hey Sera –
At least a content warning is about the content, what you are writing. “This content is graphic”
As opposed to “trigger warnings” which are about the reader – “You will be triggered when you read this.” This can become self-fulfilling prophecy, too.
“you triggered me” – is about victimisation, while “That content was disturbing” is more accurately facing what you just experienced.
Having faced oppression in various forms, and then addressing what I had internalized in a healing manner by shifting my self-beliefs back to something more positive and encouraging to me, I agree wholeheartedly that language can be a powerful tool of oppression and is often used as such. It’s the essence of gaslighting.
I also agree with HH that beyond words are energy and ways of thinking, which are inherently relevant to the subject of what words we use to communicate a specific intention.
What exactly is our intention when we communicate a personal truth? To be heard? To make an impact? To create change? Or is it to hurt someone? Retaliate? Demonstrate power? Project our shadow so we don’t have to see or feel it ourselves?
The last one I list here is how I most feel about what happens in the mh industry. And perhaps creating change will hurt some people. Is that a reason to not use our power of language in truth-speaking? These are conundrums I consider constantly as an activist. Who am I most responsible to, if not myself? Like anyone, I don’t appreciate at all being censored or silenced, but at the same time, I want to know how what I am saying is being heard.
Sometimes, these are not in synch, and I find that always to be a most powerful space for new potential of clarity and understanding, if a relatively neutral focus can be maintained. If the intention of our words is to bring clarity to an issue or situation, then the outcome will naturally reflect either the power of that intention, or at the very least, it will highlight where the resistance to clarity is, which to me, is an obstacle to, both, healing and change.
Do I correctly interpret this as you affirming my assertion that it is counterproductive to couch our words in ways designed to not make people uncomfortable (even if they should be)?
That’s hard to answer out of context because situations, intentions, and relationships vary, and I do believe in a certain amount of sensitivity even when we are being totally honest in our emotions. Whereas clarity and whitewashing do not go hand in hand, I do believe that clarity and sensitivity can harmonize. I think it takes intention, practice, and trust in the process.
I do know what you mean, in general, and I do agree, thinking of an example from years ago in San Francisco, when I was at a local activist roundtable, and I was directed specifically to not use “the D word” (Discrimination) because it is inflammatory. Of course that is bullshit and I said so, but I was alone in this. When I was doing this work in San Francisco, there was a caution about language that was over the top, and indeed, like you say, easily counterproductive. I’m sure it had all to do with appeasing power and not losing “status” in the community. Fakes.
What I feel is most productive is that our words match our inention, and that we mean what we say and say what we mean–to be honest and straightforward. I believe that is the best we can do, to be authentic, while also being mindful that our words are matching our intention with clarity and purpose.
That can still make people uncomfortable for one of two reasons–they are either hearing it in a way different than intended, projecting something onto what is being communicating, or there is a truth in what has been spoken to which people can be very resistant to hearing. I think this is where dialogue can help bring clarity, but like I said above, only if a neutral focus can be maintained. That’s generally the big challenge, from my experience, yet to be surmounted. People can get attached to a false belief and simply not want to let go, from all kinds of fears. That’s a problem when trying to resolve issues and create new clarity.
In activism, however, how can one expect to not be uncomfortable? Seeking change will inherently make us feel our discomforts. Otherwise, nothing gets at all accomplished, status quo.
Well, the specific issue prompting this was whether it is prudent to say “involuntary medication” instead of “forced drugging.” Problem is it’s inaccurate, as we are not dealing with medicine here.
In this case, “involuntary medication” is a silly euphemism which way waters down the spirit and intention of what we are communicating. Forced drugging is what it is, and the energy of this is accurate.
There is a “violence” to it, or at the very least, intimidation, overpowering, and bullying. It is violating to a person. When we say “forced drugging,” we are saying exactly what we mean, and that’s where the power is.
Here, I don’t believe it is an issue of language, it’s an issue of…I don’t know…power? Needing to be right? Needing to control? Other? Take your pick. Either way, the system never comes from a place of truth. It’s a rabbit hole.
And those supporting the status quo will be uncomfortable and threatened, no matter how you phrase it. So might as well call it what it is, while maintaining a respectful demeanor, so that when they start attacking you, it will be clear who has the moral high ground.
Winning an EEOC mediation against a voc rehab agency took clarity, directness, and persistence. No word or mind games, and no attacking. Plain, simple, honest truth spoken from the heart. It all synched up.
Of course the “powers that be” responded with retaliation when I accused them of blatant discrimination. And I proved it easily and without a doubt. It took its toll, but I recovered from the extreme stress of this and moved on.
Standing up to them bolstered my self-respect, which, considering that this was my farewell to being vulnerable in “the system”– where I had given up my power to them by accepting a position with this agency after having been a client initially–this was profoundly healing for me in multiple ways.
In addition, they chose to close rather than to change. That’s what happens with there is no fluidity in thinking. Clinging stubbornly to false beliefs is where internalized oppression happens.
I’m sure I’m not the first to relate this kind of argument to Nietzche’s (and Malcom X’s) master-slave morality. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
The problem is that power will always respond with ferocity to their vassals standing up and telling their truth, so the “subversive” or soft approach, (which could be seen as part of the problem), is always going to seem to make sense. On the other hand, without popular support it is doomed to fail.
With large numbers of patients being meek and “grateful” in response to oppression,(and that is completely understandable given the amount of power, and countless instances of the danger of even polite resistance) and the widespread public contempt for people seen as mentally ill, it seems to me that psychiatry’s expansionism is the only thing that can bring the truth to light. We don’t have the numbers, and anything we try to say is pre-discredited.
We do have the numbers but they are scattered, disorganized and conflicted at the moment, as anti-psychiatry consciousness on a mass level is still in utero. But I see people’s consciousness growing at MIA as they participate in these ongoing slugfests over the course of months or years, so I know it’s possible.
If we had the numbers, we don’t have the organization. Organization is a part of putting those numbers to use. Hopefully, in the future, we can begin to put a dent in organized psychiatry (the APA has 30,000 plus members) through organized antipsychiatry. I would think, not requiring medical degrees, or even college educations, might make it a little easier for us to organize, and with organization comes the kind of momentum and leverage that you don’t achieve through widespread disorganization, confusion, and non-focused non-engaged non-action. Practicality, here, at least, means something.
I agree it can be a tricky balance, and that different communication styles match different intentions. For example, wanting to get media and general public’s attention may perfectly reasonably involve yelling at a building housing an org you’re protesting while carrying signs with catchy but ‘inflammatory’ slogans. On the other hand, if you actually want to have a conversation with someone, that’s probably not the best place to start.
However, not bending on honest words and realities seems critical in either place. Thank you for not being willing to bend on words like ‘discrimination’, etc.
Yes, very good distinction.
And I would add here what I feel makes activism particularly unique in this arena, and ironically, I feel compelled to use the word “triggered,” because to me, this is exactly what I experience, so I’m speaking for myself with this word, it totally matches my intention–
I know when I first started posting on MIA not long after its inception years ago, I was not prepared to feel as triggered as I was– not because of the issues being discussed, that I’ve been used to for years and that’s what I enjoy on here, the ability to be open about things where in most places I know it’s not so welcome, understood or even perceived as relevant.
But I did feel a general lack of sensitivity, and even a bit more severe, kind of an “abusive energy,” and admittedly, I would unconsciously match it–not abusive, I don’t think, but insensitive and ranting. That’s what happens when I get triggered from a total lack of sensitivity in the air.
I’ve been called “thin-skinned” on here which I cannot take seriously, as that would be impossible after all I’ve gone through, survived, and even from which I have thrived–from hospitalization to withdrawal from 9 drugs to legal mediation to being on stage (with anxiety issues no less!), and now doing very cutting edge work with people, so I do not take anything personally. I do know my truth, and I know who I am.
But I am most definitely sensitive to energy, and I believe that is one thing that many survivors share. Not all, as I do not believe that this is a homogenous population, we are as diverse as anything. But I do know from knowing myself and tons of folks with whom I’ve spoken over the years, that being extremely sensitive to hostile negative and invalidating energies is quite a common trait among us. We each have to know ourselves in this regard, and then we can make wiser choices in life. Like HH says, to know how to best expend our energy. That is brilliant self-care and self-awareness.
This brand of sensitivity is actually called “clairsentience,” meaning that we pick up energy from the environment on a physical level. It’s common, and something one needs to learn to work with so it is a gift rather than a crippling curse.
So yes, it’s a delicate balance, and one I believe we can always be working to refine, if only for the sake of moving forward with all of this. In my work, there is something called “raising the energy,” which, when that occurs, a group can make great strides in accomplishing its goals. And the more one raises the energy, the more ease comes. That involves the values of mutual respect, sensitive listening and responding, from the heart, all that good stuff. I know I know–Kumbaya, as I’ve been called so often on here. But I’ll not bend here, either, because I know it to be truthful.
One last thing, as long as we’re on the topic of communication–
I guess it’s long overdue, but I do apologize for how I came on here and sent you a good blast of my anger in the way past, I did not handle myself well there. I’d been dialoguing with Mr. Whitaker just prior to this, and was super triggered by the article you had written. Not an excuse, but that’s the reason. I hope that in the meantime, I have grown in my ability to communicate with clarity and reason. That’s certainly been my intention. Takes trial and error. Your work is brilliant, no doubt about that.
Thanks for that, Alex. I remember the interaction you’re referencing, but haven’t hung on to any bad feelings about it. 🙂 And, as I recall, you had some valid points, even if roughly offered in parts.
Very complex sentence, OldHead. Maybe you should consider coming up with something lighter next time.
…”that it is counterproductive to couch our words in ways designed to not make people uncomfortable (even if they should be)”…
What is that, a triple negative or something of the sort?
A double negative (“life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”~Langston Hughs) being positive, a triple negative must be negative. To quote Groucho Marx, “I cannot say that I do not disagree with you.”
I think grammatically speaking “counterproductive” is part of a separate phrase, not the 3rd piece of a triple negative. But the phrasing is a bit awkward, though correctly conveying “not making someone uncomfortable” as an action, not just an effect. If that makes any sense. (Though Groucho’s statement isn’t THAT convoluted either, it means that he does disagree.)
Counterproductive and non-productive are pretty much the same thing, OldHead. Were we to have a strike, we would not be producing a product. Were we being counterproductive, then, it would be some other bodies who were contributing to the GNP, not us.
Yeah, but the Grouch statement was such, with all those meaningless words, as to imply that he doesn’t disagree while he’s disagreeing. Qualifying “I do not disagree with you.” with “I cannot say” is a way of being politic, isn’t it? And politic is a way of being less than truthful.
I figure counterproductive ways to couch words so as not to make people uncomfortable is, 123, 3 negatives by my count, or another way to be a pain in the neck, to put it politely, of course.
I dunno. I got it on the first read.
As always I appreciate your insight and ability to unpack many of the nuances in this multidimensional problem, from which I learned a lot. Please consider and most specifically, please do not take my comment personally as it is in no way directed at you. It is intended to speak to a missing piece of the wider problem that some ideas in your article presents the opportunity to speak to.
‘Recovery Trap’… “in order to ‘recover’ one must first accept that they were ‘sick’…
Perhaps that works for some folks, but if you feel like the existing binary of ‘sick’ and ‘well’ aren’t a fit for you, then you may want to reconsider.
With all due respect to your important critique, it is critical to include the fact that far beyond what works or doesn’t work for lay people and “professionals” buying into and selling “recovery propaganda”, the fact remains that the concept of “MI” and invented disease labels in the DSM are known to be unscientific and as such are in fact, mass medical malpractice (misdiagnosis) mass medical insurance fraud, resulting in numerous counts criminal activity under the Rico Act, crimes against humanity and other crime.
From a legal, moral and ethical stance, it is absolutely NOT acceptable for the naive public to be sold any form of fraud. Nor is it ethical or legal for any group to choose to indoctrinate ill-informed, often desperate, hence gullible, uneducated victims of fraud into the “recovery trap” or any other fraud based on quasi medical/pseudo-science, marketing schemes.
Choice is NOT be a factor in crime and by law, no party can legally ‘CONSENT” to participating in a crime. For example when rapists claims that a minor choose to participate in “consensual sex” that defense does NOT stand in court, because “sex” with minors is a crime, that the minor cannot waive- period. In the same respect, unknowing victims of fraud, can NOT consent to participating in fraud. Worse those to buy into and regurgitate misinformation designed to “con”vince and indoctrinate ever more victims into believing the same myths and misinformation, they are being used as pons to perpetuate fraud by the “professionals” selling the recovery fraud. As such, it is anything but a “choice”. Rational, law biding citizens do not support the lie that sexual predictors should be able to justify raping children under the guise and claim that rape can be ever be considered consensual sex.
In the same respect, victims peddling the “recovery fraud” that people miraculously heal from diseases that do NOT exist and as such, that they never had to begin with, is in no way -ever – a choice. Nor are practitioners who choose to peddle the recover fraud, any less guilty of peddling medical fraud than sexual predictors are guilt of rape. One can tell any false narrative that benefits, until the gig is up and they find themselves in prison.
At some point in time the truth based on the facts absolutely MUST supersede the practice of disseminating illegal, misinformation and fraud and those disseminating medical misinformation be held legally accountable and criminally liable for perpetuating medically fraudulent information. That time has long since past and the creation of ever more new victims of a mass medical scam, is morally, ethically and criminally irresponsible.
My point is that almost everyone addressing this fraud, has consistently edited out the legal aspects of this medical fraud, failed to demand that the DSM be litigated in a court of law under a Junk Science litigation test.
As a direct result, part of the reason these crimes continue to flourish, is that the silence around these facts perpetuates the problem.
Acting as if and (for lack of better words) capitulating to the notion that the public somehow has the right to choose to support and participate in a mass medical scam, must be unraveled as non-nonsensical and deeply problematic. The recovery myth is but one of many ways in which the public continues to be co-opted into doing practitioners who financially benefit and earn a living off of public ignorance and buy in, into “Mental Health” (anti-sigma etc) porn and propaganda that exponentially adds to the mass misinformation the entire “MH” fiasco relies on to continue defrauding the public against our basic right to truth in “medicine”.
Skirting around the fraud is an act of complicity.
Paula Caplan on Psychiatric Survivors Speak Up
Acting as if and (for lack of better words) capitulating to the notion that the public somehow has the right to choose to support and participate in a mass medical scam, must be unraveled as non-nonsensical and deeply problematic
I like where you’re going with this — you should try to develop and articulate it a little better. 🙂
I don’t disagree with most of what you write as I understand it, but I guess I think there are different layers to the conversation. Even though I agree that the medical system has lied to people in ways that *should* have legal consequences, I don’t believe in forcing folks on the receiving end of that to give up words they find meaningful. I don’t find force helpful in general. If I am to regard at least some people who’ve been lied to in these ways as – say – trapped in a cave, I believe it’s my role to go in and shine a light on the pathways out that were previously in shadow and thus invisible. I don’t, however, believe it’s my role to grab them by their arm and drag them down the path I’ve chosen for them. That – more often than not – results in their pulling back and struggling with me, *or* in their coming along because they feel they have no choice, but not really feeling committed to that path themselves and so not really even knowing why they’re there (or necessarily staying). In order to be the best support, I believe I need to accept that people may choose to stay, even if they got their because of lies. It’s only by letting go of that agenda that I believe I make space for people *also* to decide differently and go down the path I was hoping they’d find.
Hope that makes some sense.
My pet hate is “poor mental health”. And abbreviations. And I am beginning to dislike “resilience”.
Yeah, I still use resilience periodically, but as systems inhale the appealing words, they do… lose their appeal.
I am wondering if you might elaborate on that. Is it that the words, when used within a system, are altered and thus changed. Or is it that words uttered by those considered oppressors can not simultaneously hold value for the oppressed? Or something else?
Thanks for the article,BTW. Always following, listening, reflecting. Language is not fixed.
Thanks for reading. 🙂 Unfortunately, in my experience, any time a word starts to become a ‘buzz word’ for SAMHSA, the mental health system, etc., it just starts to become hollow. Perhaps there’s something about words uttered by oppressors cannot simultaneously hold value for the oppressed… I think there is sometimes an impossible tension for some folks (particularly those focused on reform rather than abolition, but who still hold some pretty clear lines) who fight for providers to let them define the language, but then should the provider finally listen and use the language as requested by those who’ve until then been ignored or marginalized… it’s anticlimactic because then the language stops sounding so good. So, sure, some of that.
However, some of that is driven by something deeper… So, for example, most providers who use ‘recovery’ language haven’t actually changed a damn thing about the potential they see for people in the system. They consider an acceptable or even *normal* version of ‘recovery’ to be (as I think I mentioned somewhere above in one of the other comments) sitting on the couch, zombified, and just ‘staying out of trouble’. It would *never* be good enough for themselves, but somehow it’s ‘success’ when looking as those in the system. One of the state hospitals in Massachusetts changed its name (when it wasted millions on rebuilding) to a ‘Recovery Center and Hospital’. So, now they’re using ‘recovery’ in relation to forced incarceration. Great.
Additionally, sometimes better language simply gets used to win grants and look good. So, for example, not too long ago, we had to re-bid for our primary contract that funds the RLC and we found ourselves up against a clinical provider…. And it happened to be a clinical provider who’d invested a *LOT* of time learning our language and approach. And they essentially used our own work and words to try and take it from us.
Words are meaningful, but they can also be rendered hollow when they are wielded by people who don’t understand more than their most basic definition, or who then believe that superficial ‘goodness’ is still good when it becomes forced or made hollow by overuse in under informed hands…
Does that make sense? I think there’s probably a lot more to be said on this topic, but hopefully that helps some. 🙂
Very clear. Thanks, Sera.
I think there is an insincerity when words or stories are coopted. I worked with foster kids for many years. They had many forums where social workers “listened” to the youth describing what worked and didn’t work for them and how the system should be altered. The listeners seemed sincerely interested and always congratulated the youth for their courage and wisdom, and yet the system changed not one iota. Language is important, but the attitude of respect for the voice of the recipients of one’s service is not contained in the language itself, but in the intent of the service provider. A person who doesn’t respect the person they are serving comes across as condescending regardless of the language they choose. Which has ruined many excellent terms and ideas.
“… I believe it would be unfair to advertise a screening of My Little Pony and swap it out with Amityville Horror without any advanced warning.”
I had a My Little Pony/Amityville Horror experience last summer. I signed up for a ‘family friendly’ walk and then was expected to listen to a talk that included horrible stuff about what a woman with a “psychosexual disorder” did to herself. So I walked out of a walk. I sent a polite email to the organisers with just the same point – that they should warn people.
Oh boy, that does indeed sound like a lot for a ‘family friendly’ walk.
thanks for this, sera. 🙂
That last book Szasz wrote…about psychiatry as a system of lies…I think I may have to read it, after all. They abuse language like nobody’s business, its beyond Orwell’s worst nightmares.
I appreciate your focus on the abuse of language that characterizes Mental Health, Inc. “Recovery from mental illness” is a bland, feel good phrase that could mean anything from “docile, drugged, sufficient remaining abilities to work minimum wage” to “survived psych torture and lived to tell the tale…”
Szasz, of course, is correct…getting rid of the Myth of Mental Illness would, in fact, lead to much greater clarity of thought…and speech+writing, also. 🙂
You make an excellent point. Some of the people with whom I’ve intersected and who refer to themselves as ‘in recovery’ are shaking from psych drugs, unable to work (in spite of wanting to), etc. I’ve heard stories from others now living full lives who were told they were doing ‘great’ when they were unable to get off their couch or do more than smoke and drink coffee because of how sedated they were. It’s painful to see. Although who am I to say what someone *should* look like, it’s awful to see that so many have been sold this particular ‘recovery’ bill of goods.
Only James Hillman writes about psyche without hate. Because he was not a judge, he was, and he still is the first and the only phenomenologist of psychological reality. The rest are apollonian fundamentalists, who thinks that apollonian ego (mental health) is in the center of the psyche, which is a mockery. Mental health it is just a one of many other possibilities of perception. The simplest, the easiest one. Psychiatry is just a mockery and the rest of psyche is as real as mental health assumpsions.
I’m not familiar with James Hillman, but thank you for your comment! I do appreciate the idea of going outside of so-called “mental health” in order to better understand it. 🙂
I’m glad you acknowledged that perceiving “recovery” can be a step forward for people told they will always be “sick.” I think it’s crucial that we don’t reject a word that is often so useful in helping people take that crucial step, even as we also explore its limitations and traps.
And I would disagree with one thing you said about the term recovery – that it implies we must have been “sick” in the first place. It doesn’t. “Recover” is a broad word in the English language. We recover our balance, we recover from a shocking event, we recover from all kinds of things.
We can even “recover” from something that is overall good – like I might recover from the chaos caused by doing a home remodel. I think “madness” can often be like the remodel – we lose functionality for a while, but we also might go into some kind of transformation that makes things better in the long run. An exclusive focus on “recovery” suggests that getting back to some status quo is the only objective, but refusing to talk about recovery can leave people feeling like it is understood they can never get back things they once had that they really would like to return to.
I like the notion of the hero’s journey – it includes the idea that we have to leave “normality” to do some crucial things, but then there is a return stage, or a “recovery” stage as well.
Fair enough on the broader potential for ‘recover’, but I do believe that the reality is that when it is used within the mental health system the vast majority of people are referring to ‘recovering’ from an ‘illness’, and I think it’s important to not lose sight of that even if it means something different (just like ‘peer’, etc does) outside of the system.
I’m sure you are right that most are currently thinking of it as “recovery from an illness” but it’s pretty easy in conversations to make clear that one is thinking in broader terms. I think it’s important to remember the ways the word “recovery” can be used constructively, while also of course balancing that with awareness of its limitations.
That’s not my experience… that it’s easy to repurpose or reframe words in conversation within the mental health system. Rather, my experience is that routine use of words leads to routine ways of thinking and routine ways of responding to people… And that sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to change the language to signal that people need to change the way they’re thinking and doing things.
In other words, everyone – on every side – gets institutionalized to some degree.
But I do hear what you are saying, and I think that will work some of the time.
Well, if you are talking about trying to get all of the mental health system to repurpose or reframe words, that indeed is a daunting task! But what I was referring to was just that it is easy for someone like me to use the word “recovery” in a way that makes clear I don’t assume it is an illness that someone is recovering from, or that they will always need to be “recovering,” etc. I guess what I am saying is that I don’t want to see us make “recovery” a bad word just because the system has figured out how to misuse it. I see it as a word that can still be helpful, and I believe our energy would be better spent insisting the word be used in its more helpful sense, rather than opposing its use at all.
Unfortunately the distorted language of “mental health” has made the use of any metaphor or figure of speech suspect when discussing anything related to emotional well being. (Maybe once psychiatry is abolished we’ll “recover” from this.)
One can also recover from an injury, which is often what is happening in the cases of the “mentally ill” as identified by the DSM. Psychiatry’s insistence on denying this obvious connection is one of its most evil acts.
Yes, that really is one of the worst problems of mainstream psychiatry – robbing people of their story, diverting attention from criminals and social dysfunction and instead directing the attention toward imagined brain defects which psychiatry then pretends to treat!
By the way, one really cool poster that people can print out to paint a more accurate picture about trauma and “psychosis” is at https://psychosis2.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/ten-ideas-think-differently-about-psychosis-1.pdf
@Steve — not sure I accurately understand what you mean, but it might accentuate my above statement in a way. When words are used which have both literal and more ethereal meanings, such as “trauma,” it becomes a slippery slope. While I can personally relate to the notion of “emotional trauma,” when this gets morphed into treating painful feelings as literal “injuries” requiring a physician’s attention we’re right back into “treating” abstractions with very concrete methods. And we end up with mental/emotional “injuries” rather then “illnesses.” It’s a fine line, wherever it’s drawn.
As I said in another comment, in the hands of a person who doesn’t genuinely respect the person they are trying to help, any language is quickly converted to condescension and disrespect and becomes yet another power play.
“Head” or “brain trauma” is one thing, OldHead, “psychological” or “emotional trauma” another. Until evidence comes in that says otherwise, and concrete substantive evidence at that, the first instance describes actual trauma, and the second instance describes fictive trauma. Of course, anyone can easily ascertain that there are innumerable fictive doctors out there that are very actively engaged in endeavoring to “heal” folk of their fictive traumas.
I mean we’ve got people to help when bodies get injured, but when social standing is “injured”, well, then the matter becomes much more sticky and complex. The question then becomes, whose side are you on? The side of that which all too often gets described as “the human condition”, or the side of “social justice”?
Some words have more than one definition. This might be one of them (“abolition” is another). Trauma as physical injury and trauma as emotional distress don’t have to automatically be interpreted as variations of the same thing. If one were to be seen as a simile I’m not sure which one it would be; I tend to view trauma more in emotional terms and injury in physical terms.
Gotta fall back to Thomas Szasz on this one, OldHead, and Szasz bringing in Karl Kraus, his anti-Freud.
“I have done nothing more than show that there is a distinction between an urn and a chamber pot and that it is this distinction above all that provides culture with elbow room. The others, those who fail to make this distinction, are divided into those who use the urn as chamber pot and those who use the chamber pot as urn.”
Anti-Freud: Karl Kraus’s Criticism of Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry (1974), Thomas S. Szasz
Abolish means get rid of. If you don’t abolish it, you don’t get rid of it. Do I take it that you, by this insistence, have arrived at a way to cling onto things that you would “abolish” while claiming they are “abolished”? Sounds kind of evasive to me.
Psychological trauma is real. Claiming that it isn’t is ableist and ignorant.
Yeah, whatever. I’m not trying to win any prizes for so-called ‘political correctness’.
Physical is real. Psychological is next of kin to metaphysical.
I don’t really think anybody can prove ‘psychological’. People can prove physical though, but that’s only because physical manifests itself through the evident. Science, in any event, isn’t about proving, it’s about disproving.
I’m just saying, in some instances, the proof of “can’t do-it-ness” is deficient or lacking, and contrary to what the facts would suggest.
I have to disagree to some extent – I think it is fairly easy to observe that psychological damage exists. Look at a child who is constantly berated, or beaten, or sold to someone else for sexual favors, and compare to a child who is raised in a rational and loving manner, and you will consistently see the former showing evidence of having been damaged by the treatment they received, in the sense of lacking trust, being aggressive or withdrawn, having flashbacks, having difficulty relating to others, etc. Where I do agree is that such phenomena are not really amenable to study and classification in the same way that something like a broken leg or an infection would be. We are, indeed, operating on the borders of metaphysics here. However, we all need metaphysics to make sense of the world we live in, and I think it is this very process of making sense that is distorted and blunted by abusive treatment by those who have power over a person. Whether you call that “injury” or “trauma” or something else is all semantics, but I do think such damage is very clearly observable.
Healing from whatever trauma one may have experienced is what leads to greater understanding of how things work as well as personal enlightenment.
Also, what we observe in others is merely a projection of our inner world. A person’s reality is what they feel, not what others observe about them. That would be the reality of the observer.
Physical is real.
Non-physical is also real. Physical is just one vibrational level of reality, or one way of perceiving or focusing on it.
For Mad people who wish to self-actualize, perhaps for the very first time, the disengagement stage is probably the most important. To speak plainly, I’ll call that stage “The End”. It’s the stage when you’re physically, if not emotionally, unable to “comply” with #FAKESCIENCE . It took me years to construct even one clear thought for my life-changing journey to me. And, it began when I, literally, repelled – not rebelled – from psychiatry.
To fuel this momentum of liberty, the Mad ex-patient will need to secure a safe and sustainable role within society. It’s, primarily, a game of defense, regardless of the person’s pre-psychiatry status. #FAKESCIENCE is meant to be a form of social homicide, like being convicted of a major felony, or getting #MeTooed . So, when a Mad person starts their post-psychiatry life, they’re bucking a universal fear – of the undead. Whether they thrive without psychiatry or not, they’ll be aggressed upon, simply for trying. The public has no desire or ability to cope with a “corpse” (i.e. YOU). That’s why it tries again to bury you, and why it grabs a new kill-bag. This one holds the less-potent substitutes for psychiatric terrorism: unattainable “benchmarks” of “recovery”, homogenized narratives on ANY Mad-related issue, and reckless demands that we “sink or swim”, should we ever seek help away from psychiatry. Sera’s observations are painfully, frighteningly accurate. ”Muh hipster sanism” is Mad oppression and Mad genocide, Act II.
I have felt the same way, and yet, it still feels incredibly lonely after this repel/rebel for some reason where I am. I needed to read this all the same.
Thanks for reading, J! I do think that a lot of people do find liberty when they just completely reject what they’ve been told! Not always an easy journey, and I’m never going to personally be one who tells people which journey is right for them (because, at the very least, benevolent force is still force), but I know I personally felt an important shift when I moved from somewhat rebellious to just “fuck off”. 🙂
Thank you for the excellent article, Sera. I feel so strongly about language that I often jump down people’s throats. (I will do so now, in reference to some of the comments, by saying that uncritical acceptance of the words “provider” and “recipient” make me kinda sick.) I recently went out for coffee with a young woman who had just been “discharged” from a month-long hospitalization and felt very traumatized, but wanted to tell me that the neuroleptic she was now taking was helping. I said I hoped she wouldn’t stay on it for long and spoke about some of the dangers. She responded by trying to explain why some people “need” long-term neuroleptization: she had a relative who had been born schizophrenic. I had a fit. I didn’t yell, but I’m sure I turned purple. I said that there was no such thing as schizophrenia, etc., etc. I came home and wrote an apologetic email saying that I wished I hadn’t been so mean. She replied that she’d very much enjoyed our visit and wanted to meet again soon. The next day I went to a party, attended mostly by psychiatrized people, and someone spoke about my work in the area of “mental health.” I had a fit about the wrongness of that term, and it resulted in a lot of interest from one of the party-goers, leading to a new friendship; she is thrilled to find a perspective on her own “mental health” experience that resonates for her. Sometimes, oddly, my fury about language does not work against me. Just thought I’d mention.
Thanks so much, Irit. Yes, sometimes people who speak loudly and firmly may lose some people, but also act as an important ‘beacon’ of sorts for those who’ve had similar thoughts and haven’t known what to do with them. It can be so important. 🙂
Admittedly, I do use the term ‘provider’ a bunch because I haven’t felt moved to worry too much about the impact of that one-word label on folks working in the system… but it’s a good point that I should probably think harder about the term and what it conveys to everyone about that role.
I see “provider” as simply a description of a role a person has chosen to play. I see this as very different from a high-power person assigning a label to someone who has no voice to object.
I don’t like it at all, it represents the consumerization of human experience. People don’t transcend their existential alienation under capitalism by “receiving services” from “providers.”
I don’t like it either. I think it is false. I don’t like the idea that some people can’t “provide” for themselves, and thus they must be “provided” for. What it does is “privilege” the “providers” over the “provided for”. I don’t think it has been adequately demonstrated that they are completely incapable of “providing” for themselves.
An entire service industry has sprung up around “providing” for the homeless, but note, what is being “provided” isn’t, as a rule, affordable housing. Why? You make sure everybody has got housing, and it’s going to throw all these service “providers” out of work. Now you’ve got several service industries that depend for their existence on people not being employed. Employ them, and these service workers would have to get real jobs. As long as their clients are un or underemployed, your service worker has a career. Employ them, and the hoax is up, your parasite loses, with its host, its reason to exist.
Great article and use of language, besides being about language, Sera! Thanks for your efforts.
I love a lot of the important themes you introduced. And I understand this topic could fill several volumes. But I wonder why you don’t give more examples of alternative language instead of just bashing what’s there now.
For example, you said a lot about “peers,” including: ” Nor am I a ‘peer’, with my identity inextricably linked to my relationship (former or current) to the mental health system.” Later you go on to describe how the RLC does not use this word in job descriptions. I guess that makes them politically correct? What do they use?
“Professionalism is the bane of society.” –George Bernard Shaw. This certainly holds for this new profession of “mental health peer.” There are licenses and courses, but who decides something so simple as people helping one another with their troubles? This new profession brings in a lot of very bad relationships that leave me wondering what it’s all about.
Can you please enlighten me, O Goddess of Words: Sera?
I find that referring to things as ‘politically correct’ is a way to devalue or cut off the conversation. It communicates that someone is “just doing it to seem cool” or “in the know” or “woke” enough. I’m not saying that that is how you intended that term to come across, but it is how it is very often used (as something derisive in some way) and I can’t help be hear it that way.
The RLC dropped the term ‘peer’ from job titles some years ago, and moved to Advocate. That’s also an imperfect word, but at least moves away from the idea that our job titles need be inextricably linked to something some people will see as part of our identities. I’m sure there are other options, all flawed in some way, but what I also say in this article is that it is less about a list of good and bad words than understanding values and aims.
So, if we know that it’s one of our values to not lock people into mental health-system attached identities, then using *ANY* single word to routinely always refer to ‘them’ probably isn’t consistent with what we are working toward. Not client, not participant, not peer, not individual, not acorn. It’s the institutinalization of the language and the person right along with it that is the problem above all else.
So, I’d be leading people astray if I listed out a bunch of words that are ‘okay’. That’s not the point. The point is figuring out what we are actually trying to accomplish in all this?
As an aside, “politically correct” started out as a term mainly used in left political discourse which was appropriated to ridicule the very idea of being politically correct as somehow absurd or totalitarian. (Odd, since they don’t similarly ridicule being “mathematically correct” or “scientifically correct.”) Anyway, when the likes of George H.W. Bush started decrying “the trend towards ‘polltical correctness'” it was clear that the term had lost its usefulness; after all, what would be politically correct in the original understanding of the term would be whatever would most effectively free the planet from domination by people such as him.
If politics is a science, there’s nothing absurd about wanting to be correct. However what is “correct” politically depends on one’s political goal; what is politically correct if one’s goal is world domination might be different than if the goal were communism.
In an ironic twist however, many of those who currently consider themselves “leftists” (though I don’t consider them such) have become so dogmatically bonded to rigid terminology and cultish thinking that they have become parodies of themselves, often resembling the stereotypes of “political correctness” ascribed to “the left” by “the right.”
Sera, somehow I missed this blog of November 1. I just now read your excellent article and the comments and found it all a real learning experience and very helpful. Thanks!